Why I Donate

Alexandra Wilson, CEO, The Agency for Co-operative Housing

How did you first get involved with CDF?
I don’t recall when I made my first donation, but I got to know the organization well in 1987 when I worked with a consulting team that conducted an institutional assessment for CIDA of the then Co-operative Union of Canada (CUC)’s international program. I went on to work for the international affairs unit of CUC and CCA for two and a half years, before moving to the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada.

Why did you choose to give to CDF?
One reason: because it supports co-operative development in Canada and abroad. No other English Canadian NGO has that as its exclusive mandate. Co-operatives have a huge role to play in furthering economic and social advances in the developing world, but they need support to get off the ground and build the organizational infrastructure that will assure their continued success. That’s easy to overlook in a country like ours where co-operatives and credit unions are large, well established businesses. But if you look into their history, you will often find that outside help was vital early on. This is certainly true of The Co-operators, where I serve on the board of directors. When we started up in the 1940s, we had strong support from the credit unions and farmers’ co-operatives that were our founding sponsors. Many people know this. But how may also know that we had help at critical junctures from outside Canada, from our American and British co-operative cousins, who were further along in their development? Without the benefit of their expert advice, which they provided generously and without charge, we would have failed in our early years.

What type of donation do you make to CDF (ex: monthly gift, planned giving, campaign pledge) and why should others give this way?
In the past, CDF was one of many charities I supported. I responded regularly to annual and special solicitations. Two years ago, Carol Hunter asked whether I would serve as one of CDF’s co-op ambassadors. She explained that, among other things, this would entail making a more substantial personal contribution. I had frankly never considered that possibility, but I knew right then that it was something I wanted to do. I have since pledged donations through 2015. In order to minimize the time before I receive the tax benefit, I make most of my charitable contributions in December, but many people will find it most convenient to make a monthly donation. And monthly contributions are good for CDF: they give it a regular revenue stream and reduce fundraising costs.

What is your first memory of the work that CDF does?
I can’t call it a memory, because I had no awareness of it when it took place, but I first heard of CDF when someone told me that it had provided support years earlier for the development of artists’ co-operatives in Northern Canada. Knowing the importance of those co-operatives, which went on to form Artic Co-ops, that impressed me.

What impact do you feel your donation to CDF is creating?
Help from organizations around the world like CDF has been essential to getting co-operatives off the ground in the developing world. The role credit unions play in improving people’s lives—to mention just one type of co-operative CDF has supported—is not dissimilar from the role the first caisses populaires and credit unions played in our own country: they provide a way for people to pool their very scarce resources and borrow on fair terms. Without credit, economic development won’t take place. Today we take the many sources of consumer credit available to us in Canada for granted, but it wasn’t always so. Ask yourself whether you would own a home today if you had never had access to credit. That’s the situation for many, many people in the developing world.

When you last made a donation to CDF, how did that make you feel?
A little less flush! Which is a good feeling. Because I’m lucky enough to have a good income, I can afford to give some of it away to help others get a little further ahead.

What do you wish other people knew about CDF?
How far their money goes and how well CDF spends it.

What's your personal philosophy on what should be done about international development?
That’s a complex question. Most of what needs to be done to accelerate the economic development of the poorer regions of the world needs to happen from within those regions, but there is a role for carefully conceived external support. Movement-to-movement development assistance is an example: no matter where they are, emerging co-operatives have something to learn from the experiments—successful and not—of those co-operators who went before them. It’s a simple case of not reinventing the wheel. But development is a two-way street: the organizations that give have just as much to gain in return. Helping a younger co-operative is a rejuvenating experience. And how better to get some perspective on your own movement or organization, its successes and its shortcomings, than by stepping outside and looking at another one?

When your friends or family find out that you donate to CDF, what do they say or ask?
They don’t ask, which tells me that I’m being too shy about the causes I support!

What would you tell someone who is thinking about donating to CDF?
If you believe that co-operatives help build a better world, then CDF deserves a share of your charitable giving. My mother once told me that she tried to direct most of her charitable gifts to causes that were less popular, because they were more in need of her support. I give to different causes I’m passionate about—the environment, the arts, the wellbeing of my local community—but I reserve my largest single donation for CDF. That’s because, as a co-operator, I know that co-operative development isn’t going to grab the public imagination. It’s up to those of us who’ve experienced their benefits to promote the spread of co-operatives around the world.